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Duke Women's Basketball 2002-2003 - The Year In Review

Duke Women's Basketball 2002-2003: The Year In Review

I. Season Recap
II. Player-By-Player Evaluation
III. A Look At The Class Of 2007
IV. Preliminary Season Preview

I. Season Recap.

This was a season of high expectations and great achievements, even if
the ultimate goal of a national title was not met. The loss to Tennessee
in the Final Four, and the team's struggles in general in the NCAA
tournament, left a bitter taste in the mouths of the players and coaching
staff. The fact that the teams squaring off for the national title are
the two true superpowers in women's college basketball (UConn and
Tennessee) made the loss all the more difficult to accept. With their #1
ranking, returning 7 of their top 8 players from last season, and the
addition of the #1 recruiting class in the country, this was supposed to
be Duke's year at last. If Duke indeed had had a fully stocked team, then
the year's record could have been considered disappointing. Realistically
speaking, however, losing Monique Currie and Caitlin Howe for the season
proved too difficult to overcome against truly elite teams. The 2003
season proved to be a valuable learning experience for players and coaches
alike, asthey found out what it was like to be a national target and how to
deal with that pressure. There were times that Duke was able to use its
stature to its own advantage, but more often than not the team would
tighten up and scratch out wins against teams that didn't have any
business of being within 20 points of them. When Duke played with joy and
passion, it made their tactical and personnel advantages all the more
difficult to stop. When they played tight, it hurt them as much as losing
Currie and Howe. The most important lesson all involved can take away
from the season would be to understand just how much they accomplished and
how rare success like theirs is, while at the same time acknowledging
their flaws and how to correct them.

The bad news was delivered to Duke very early in the year. Star wing
Monique Currie drove to the basket on the first possession of the first
preseason game of the season, and tore her ACL as she came down after the
drive. In the same game, Caitlin Howe came down awkwardly on her knee and
limped off the court. After two ACL surgeries and another minor surgical
procedure before the season, this was the last thing anyone wanted to see.
She didn't tear her ACL again at that point, but her knee had shifted
enough to keep her out of action for several months. When she did come
back, she tore her ACL in practice. Truly a star-crossed career for a
brilliant young player. What this meant for Duke is that they took blows
in two very vulnerable areas. Howe was to be the team's three point
shooting specialist; her range and form are among the finest I've ever
seen. Currie was one of the best freshmen in the country last year and
acted as a perfect complement for Alana Beard and Iciss Tillis. At 6-0
and blessed with a wiry but powerful frame, Currie was equally comfortable
using her quickness to get to the hoop or her strength to draw contact and
get fouled. One of the most confident players I've ever seen, she fears
no one and is perfectly comfortable in creating her own offense. Her
offensive rebounding and ability to create fouls gave Duke an option to go
to when everything else broke down. She also stepped up in big games,
dropping 30 on UNC in the 2002 ACC championship game. Losing her meant
that Duke no longer had a reliable third scoring option, putting that much
more pressure on Beard and Tillis. It also meant that the freshmen would
have to be brought along a bit more quickly. Early in the year, it was
clear that they were talented but not finished talents like Beard and Currie.

Initially, the team rallied around each other after critics predicted
that Tennessee would beat Duke early in the year and claim the #1 spot.
The Devils crushed an overmatched ECU squad, putting six players into
double figures and shooting 50% from the three point line. Neither of
those statistics would be common sights in the season to come. Three days
later, Duke took on the mighty Lady Vols of Tennessee, a team that was
expected by some to claim the national title. They returned All-America
Kara Lawson and had a slew of tough and athletic post players. Early on
in a game played in Raleigh's RBC center, UT held a lead unexpectedly
built on three point shooting. Duke fought back by turning up the defense
and going all-out on the boards. A Tillis buzzer-beater gave Duke a
five-point halftime lead before the Devils pulled away thanks to the
brilliant play of Beard, Tillis and Wynter Whitley off the bench.
Whitley, who quickly became Duke's best post defender in 2002, took on
the Lady Vols inside and outplayed their bigs with an 8 point, 6 rebound
performance. Unfortunately, such performances were the exception for
Wynter last season, due in great part to a personal tragedy she suffered
over the summer. Without Whitley at her best, Duke was effectively down
yet another productive and important team member. Another significant
player in this game was Lindsey Harding, whose defense gave the Lady Vols
fits. She would struggle offensively in the near future, but would
eventually be a big key to Duke's late-season success.

Duke had successfully defended their #1 ranking and did it in a 21 point
rout. The doubters had been silenced, everyone's confidence was sky-high,
and it was time to enjoy their status as the queens of college basketball.
The first stop was three games in the Paradise Jam. That proved to be a
disturbing trip, as a big win against Hampton was marred by bad shot
selection. Everyone was looking to score instead of getting their team
the best shot available. That continued to show against Old Dominion, a
team not as good as many for that storied program. Duke again shot poorly
(37%), but was rescued by great defense and the all-around excellence of
Alana Beard, who scored 28 points. The Devils were really challenged by
top 20 team Arkansas, who took Duke into overtime before Beard hit a
couple of free throws with a second left to get the win. Mistie Bass
turned out to be another major contributor, scoring 13 points. That
included a game-tying shot with under three minutes to play. Duke
won thanks to intense defense, hard-nosed rebounding, and the one-two
punch of Beard and Tillis. Beard had 27 points, 8 rebounds and 3 assists,
while Tillis had 13 points and 10 rebounds.

The Devils returned to Durham for their own Duke Classic. They were
seeking to regain the title after an ignomonious defeat to South Carolina
a year earlier. Duke shot an absurd 61% against an overmatched Howard
team in the first game as seven players were in double figures. Against
St Joseph's, however, the home team had more of a struggle. It was a
formula that would haunt Duke throughout the season: a talented but still
overmatched team plays a sticky zone against Duke and forces either bad
shots or turnovers from players who don't want to shoot. For their part,
Duke then gets tougher on defense and waits for Alana Beard to bail them
out. That's pretty much what happened here, though she was aided by Bass
and Sheana Mosch, who had her first good shooting game in quite some time.
Duke turned a relatively tight game into a 30 point+ blowout, but their
overall play was uneven.

After exams, Duke polished off Charleston Southern with little trouble.
Florida International should have provided a stiffer test with a roster
filled with size and skilled shooters, but Duke blew them off the court.
Six players were in double figures as Duke shot 53% and only turned the
ball over 8 times. Meanwhile, their press thoroughly demoralized FIU and
forced 25 turnovers. The Devils followed that up with a road trip to
Tulsa in honor of Iciss Tillis. Iciss played well, getting 19 points, and
the Duke defense held Tulsa to just 36 points. Duke completed its road
trips with a visit to South Padre Island, Texas. This party spot was the
host of the SPI Shootout as the teams played in a tiny high school gym.
Duke crushed Detroit with ease, forcing 30 turnovers, and then blew a
talented Iowa State out of the water. Notable in this tournament was the
emergence of frosh Jessica Foley, who averaged double-digits and shot
50% from three.

Fun time was over for the Blue Devils as the ACC season began. Duke had
run the table in 2002 and hardly broke a sweat while doing so, adding fuel
to the fire for their league opponents. Considering that the ACC
preseason press gathering was one long coronation for Duke, that only
exacerbated the situation. When coaches and players are asked nothing but
questions about how great they think Duke is, it has to be grating. First
up for Duke was a personal bete noir for Coach G, the Clemson Tigers.
This Tiger squad had the kind of size they had been lacking in recent
years, and thanks to a buzzer-beating three by star Chrissy Floyd, even
led Duke at the half. The Devils came out angry to start the second half,
and turned the game around with what turned out to be a five point play--a
Vicki Krapohl three followed by a foul, followed by a Beard score when
they got the ball back. Duke's defense clamped down on most everyone and
they won by a comfortable margin. Beard, Tillis and Bass combined for 55
of their 69 points.

That scoring disparity was highlighted in perhaps Duke's worst game of
the season, on the road against Virginia. Once the dominant power in the
league, the Hoos have been playing second fiddle to Duke (and to a lesser
extent UNC) over the past five years. Duke was minus Brooke Smith and
Jessica Foley, the latter to an injury that would keep her out
several games. But Virginia trumped them by suspending their two best
players, Brandi Teamer and Cherrise Graham. What should have been an
easy win instead was a death struggle as the Hoos concentrated on shutting
down everyone except Beard with a fierce defensive effort. The Hoos led
at the half and looked like they had the win sewn up when, down one, Beard
missed a jumper. But she was fouled going after the rebound with less
than a second to go, and hit both to score 41 points, a Duke record. That
was 41 out of 60 points, a ridiculous proportion. Beard was 16-30 from
the floor but her teammates shot 3-29. To say that Duke got lucky was an

Perhaps burnt out by her performance, Beard had a subpar first half in
the team's next game, against Georgia Tech. She started the game 0-5 as
Tech took a one-point halftime lead. Iciss Tillis stepped up with 24
points and 14 rebounds as Coach G made some key switches that held Tech to
23 second half points. The Devils continued to struggle, as they blew
several big leads and very nearly had a complete collapse. The Deacs, a
team that Duke has been crushing on a regular basis for the past several
years, were within 2 points with just a minute left. A timely runner by
Michele Matyasovsky gave Duke the breathing room they needed as Wake
finally ran out of gas. In general, Duke was playing with little emotion
and enthusiasm, especially in the early going of both halves. On the
horizon was a huge TV game with UNC, a team hungry to knock Duke off and
gain supremacy in the conference once again.

Duke played with a lot of heart in a solid-out Carmichael Auditorium,
though not a lot of precision. Neither Beard nor Tillis shot well,
combining for 2-16 in the first half as players like Sheana Mosch, Mistie
Bass and Wynter Whitley kept Duke in the game. Duke kept a slim lead
until about six minutes to go, when a big UNC run gave them a 56-49 lead.
Duke may have trouble as a favorite but is quite comfortable in playing
from behind, and they fought back magnificently. Beard & Tillis helped
Duke take a 3-point lead, but a miracle desperation three by Leah Metcalf
tied the score at 61. After a Mosch shot was blocked, UNC went to the
basket with time running down and a player seemed to get fouled...but it
was ruled that time had run out before the foul was committed. Beard and
Tillis dominated the overtime as UNC started clanking free throws. UNC
was still grumbling about being the better team, but they tanked in

The team had reclaimed a lot of their joy with that win, working out
intrasquad differences beforehand. They celebrated by bludgeoning an
overmatched Maryland squad as six players were in double figures. FSU,
the surprise of the ACC, gave Duke a tough game in Cameron. When Beard
went out with her fourth foul, the Noles were within just a few points and
ready to attack. Instead, Jessica Foley and Michele Matyasovsky carved up
the Seminoles, leading Duke to an easy win. Tillis decimated FSU's front
line with 30 points and 8 rebounds, proving that Duke could beat a good
team without Beard. Duke was now looking forward to their big showdown
with UConn, which had risen to #2 in the country with a nearly brand new
roster led by Diana Taurasi. The Devils took care of business with NC
State first, holding the Pack to under 50 points. Duke wasn't exactly
burning up the nets themselves, shooting just 35% for the game. Still,
they were ready to host the powerful Huskies.

Cameron was in a state of bedlam for this game, as it was the first-ever
sellout in Duke women's history. The student section was jam-packed with
actual students, many of whom were die-hard men's fans. The game was
further hyped up due to a string of comments made by irascible UConn coach
Geno Auriemma, many of them centering around his bitterness over failing
to land top recruit Brittany Hunter, who instead went to Duke. The real
purpose of his act was to take the pressure off his team and put it on his
own shoulders, playing the part of villain with gusto. The plan worked to
perfection as his team was relaxed and hungry to regain the top ranking
after starting the season with an undefeated record. Conversely, Duke
seemed a bit tight in the early going, trying to make the perfect play to
please their crowd instead of just playing. The Huskies had the perfect
blend of ingredients to thwart Duke. They had size, quickness, power and
versatility, along with a game-changing superstar in Diana Taurasi. They
leaned a lot on their frosh, but Ann Strother was proving to be supremely
versatile and Barbara Turner was a skilled bruiser. Duke had struggled
in the early going of their games, so Auriemma wanted to take a quick
lead. The first key was to take Duke out of their offensive rhythm.
UConn bumped every cutter and used some subtle but effective tricks to
force players out of position. That helped neutralize Iciss Tillis, and
they controlled Beard by playing her strictly for her jumper. That meant
a quick lead, a 21 point halftime edge, and a 28 point advantage early in
the second half.

Humiliated, the Devils rallied using their greatest weapon: pressure
defense. Inserting the ultra-quick Harding into the game, Duke forced a
number of turnovers and cut the lead to 6 with a minute left. UConn
maintained their poise and hit their foul shots to hang on. It was
reminiscient of the way Duke had held off a number of opponents earlier in
the season. Duke had lost their #1 ranking and an opportunity to assert
their status in the world of women's college basketball. This was the
third-most watched college basketball game in ESPN2 history, men's or
women's, and it wound up coloring the opinions of many writers who saw few
games from either team in postseason awards voting.

The good news was that Duke had learned from the loss. Duke made their
comeback when Harding was in the game, and she had done a good job of
attacking the basket. So she became the new starting point guard, Vicki
Krapohl was moved to the two, and Beard became the new wing, with Mistie
Bass going to the bench. This was a team that had to make their mark with
defense and exploit their own tremendous quickness. With Harding in the
starting lineup, it also meant that all five players had perimeter skills
and could move with a bit more fluidity. Against Clemson, this formula
was in clear effect as they forced 26 turnovers and held the Tigers to 35%
shooting. Despite scoring just 61 points themselves, Duke had an easy 12
point victory. Against Virginia, the defense turned a 4-point game into a
27 point blowout as Duke held the Cavs to just 10 points in the last 13
minutes of the game. Beard and Tillis were still doing most of the heavy
lifting on offense, but they were now suddenly getting a boost from senior
Sheana Mosch. Approaching the end of her career, she asserted herself
more on offense and it was turning close games into Duke blowouts.

Still unbeaten in the ACC, Duke thrashed Georgia Tech from beginning to
end, holding a third straight opponent to under fifty points. The Devils
took control of a road game against Wake Forest early on, cruising to a 40
point win. The big rematch against UNC proved to be a laugher, with Duke
breaking open a close game late in the first half and running the Heels
out of the stadium. Before the game, a Heel assistant coach had told her
team, "They're afraid of you. They know that you're better than they
are." Instead, four Duke players were in double figures and UNC stars
Coretta Brown and Candace Sutton were shut down. Both Virginia and UNC
had played very physically, with the Heels in particular getting in a
number of cheap shots in an effort to disrupt Duke. But they couldn't
disrupt Duke's defensive focus, and that only fed their offensive
confidence as the Devils forced turnover after turnover. It wasn't enough
just to rough up Duke anymore--you had to have the skills, athleticism and
most of all the discipline to back that up.

Duke was now in complete command of the ACC and was eyeing a repeat of a
16-0 season. An overmatched Maryland team was dispatched with great ease
on the road, while FSU was beaten after a 13-0 Duke run in the first half.
That left only a home game with a greatly disappointing but still talented
NC State team that would miss the NCAA tournament. It was Senior Night,
and both Mosch and Michele Matyasovsky had tremendous games. In fact,
Mattie scored 9 straight points in the first half to put the Pack away in
a surprisingly easy win. For the first time in ACC history, a team went
16-0 in back-to-back seasons--truly an amazing accomplisment. The team
had another goal in mind: getting their fourth straight ACC Tournament

That would be easier said than done. Duke has a history of tightening
up in the early rounds of the tourney, and their game against Wake Forest
was no exception. Duke was in control for most of the game but kept
throwing the ball away down the stretch. Wake actually had a chance to
send the game into overtime at the end, but good defense forced a bad
shot. Duke recovered to crush a Georgia Tech team that simply did not
match up well at all with Duke to set up another date with UNC for the ACC
title. Hatchell used a shifting zone defense to utterly befuddle the Blue
Devils in the first half, at one point taking a 29-19 lead. Their game
plan of pounding the ball inside and forcing Duke to take bad shots was
working well, even if it was less aggressive than their usual style. But
they started taking some ill-advised shots, leading to long rebounds which
led to Duke scores. UNC had just a 6 point halftime lead and switched to
a man defense in the second half. That inexplicable decision meant that
Beard and Tillis absolutely went off, with Iciss scoring all 21 of her
points in the half and Beard going nuts on the boards, getting a
career-high 20 rebounds. Duke ruled the ACC once again, winning their
43rd consecutive game against league foes and securing a #1 seed in the
NCAA tournament.

The team once again tightened up in the NCAA tournament, playing away
from Cameron Indoor Stadium for the first time. Of course, in the NCAA's
insane plan of awarding teams homecourt advantage even before the season
starts, Duke almost had to do some serious travelling for their first
round game. Instead, they got to play in Reynolds Coliseum, one of their
least favorite places to play. Of some comfort was the fact that it was
at least nearby. Their first round opponent was a greatly underseeded
Georgia State team, one that had played a number of tough teams and had a
long winning streak. Duke was sluggish on the defensive end and held just
a 4 point halftime lead against a squad using a (surprise!) matchup zone.
Duke got angry in the second half, with Jess Foley coming off the bench to
provide a nice spark. Before the team's next game against Utah, Beard
sprained her ankle and was thought to be unavailable. That would not be
the case, as Alana played through the injury and single-handedly destroyed
a very game Utah club with 27 points. Foley was once again in double
figures and Tillis had a double-double along with some excellent defense.
Duke had not played their best but was once again in the Sweet
Sixteen--six years in a row and counting.

Duke then headed west to Midwest Regionals in Albuquerque. Their foe
was a very good Georgia team, a squad with a huge front line and an
excellent young point guard. This was a game that Duke could have easily
lost, due to a bad game from Beard, poor overall shooting, and getting
creamed on the boards. But various players stepped up at crucial times,
none greater than Iciss Tillis. Duke's defense and quickness allowed them
to rally from an early double-digit deficit, and a patient attack against
a tough zone gave Duke a lead they wouldn't relinquish. Crucial baskets
by Krapohl, Bass and Foley helped Duke get their lead, but it was a steal
by Mosch with just seconds left that thwarted Georgia's last second
attempt at a tie. Somehow, Duke had found a way to win in a truly ugly

Their next opponent was top ten Texas Tech, a team Duke had beaten in
the 2001 season. Duke was given a boost by the New Mexico fans who had
come out to root against their archrivals from Lubbock. Duke was somehow
playing even worse in this game than against Georgia. Thankfully, Texas
Tech wasn't playing much better, trailing just 10-3 with eight minutes
gone by. The Lady Raiders were using a bruising, physical style of
defense that neutralized everyone except Beard, who thrives against that
kind of approach. When Tech star Plenette Pierson went out with an
injury, Duke went zone and forced a number of bad shots. This allowed
them to take a 26-21 halftime lead. Duke built that lead to 8 in the
second half, but Texas Tech tied it up by forcing the ball inside. Once
again, Beard got things going with some jumpers, but an overreliance on
that kind of shot let the Raiders get closer. With four minutes to go,
Tech took a 2 point lead, but Beard passed to Tillis for a three.
Suffering through a foul-plagued game, Iciss nonetheless stepped up at the
right time to give Duke back the lead. She then blocked a Pierson shot
with seconds left to preserve a three point lead. Duke was in the Final
Four, but it sure wasn't pretty or easy.

Their next game would be a rematch against Tennessee, and it would prove
to be a knock-down affair. There would be two keys that led to UT's
victory: they took care of the boards, and did not turn the ball over.
Pat Summitt took a page from Coach G's book in using Gwen Jackson all over
the court, posting up for easy scores, using the mid range jumper to
stretch Duke's defense, and hitting a crucial three that gave UT the space
they needed down the stretch. Other than Mosch, no one stepped up to help
Beard, who was truly heroic with a 29 point finale, including a
buzzer-beating three at the end of the first half that seemed to give Duke
all the momentum. The difference in this game was that UT made sure to
control and disconcert everyone but Beard, who is always reluctant to take
every shot unless it becomes absolutely necessary. Tennessee had the
combination of talent, power, depth and athleticism necessary to defeat
Duke, along with a coach who knew the best ways to attack Duke's

While 30 win seasons and Final Fours are starting to become regular
occurences, let's review the records that Duke shattered this past season.
The Devils broke records for most games played in a season (37), most wins
(35), fewest losses (2), best winning percentage (95%), consecutive away
wins (15), best start (20-0), best undefeated start (20-0), FG attempted
(2354), threes attempted (574), FT made (580), rebounds (1494), steals
(462), scoring defense (54 ppg) and winning margin (+25). Some single
game records include points in a game (128, vs Howard), FG made (51, vs
Howard), assists (35, vs Howard) and blocks (13, vs UNC). I'll discuss
individual records in each player's section. Records tied include ACC
wins (16), fewest ACC losses (0), ACC winning % (100%), consecutive ACC
wins (16), best ACC start (16-0) and points (2922). Single game records
tied include threes (12, vs ECU) and steals (25, twice). Coach G was
honored as Naismith, WBCA and ACC Coach of the Year. This was her 5th ACC
coaching award, but her first from the WBCA and Naismith after having
been a nominee for both on multiple occasions.

Analyzing the season as a whole, the reason why Duke won 35 games is the
same reason why they lost 2 games: Alana Beard. What I mean by this is
that as long as Alana was in the game, Duke had a legitimate chance to
beat anyone. The downside of this is that her teammates sometimes acted
as though they were waiting for Alana to bail them out of tough spots.
This wasn't always true--both contests against Florida State and the
tourney game against Georgia featured Beard's teammates stepping up in a
big way--but it happened enough during the season to be considered a
significant trend. Duke had some very real flaws that were exacerbated by
a number of factors, and talented teams with clever coaches could exploit
these flaws. Anyone who watched Duke play a number of times can recite
these flaws by heart: inconsistent outside shooting, a lack of flow in the
halfcourt offense, decision-making difficulties against zone defenses, and
team focus being disrupted by extremely physical play.

Duke under Coach G has been a finesse team that loves to run and exploit
mismatches in the halfcourt. Valuing versatility and speed over power,
Coach G has always preferred players who could pass, shoot and handle the
ball. She's always loved inverting her posts and guards, which helped
create matchup problems and led to lots of easy baskets for cutters. With
the team she has put together now, it is absolutely suicide to try to
match their quickness or play a finesse style. Teams like Georgia Tech
and the current Maryland squad stood no chance because of this. Duke's
quickness has also meant that they've become an excellent rebounding team
in recent years, despite a lack of size and power.

Physical teams were Duke's bane in Coach G's early years, and UNC in
particular gave them a lot of problems. Part of that was because of UNC's
athletes, who could run or bruise you with equal facility. When Duke
caught up in terms of athleticism, they started piling up wins against a
lot of old opponents because the Devils still played with discipline and
started forcing their opponents into a lot of mistakes. Slowly, her teams
went from a group that could only stop great players by using junk
defenses into a legitimate defensive powerhouse. The 2002 team's identity
was that of a high-powered offensive unit, but the 2003 group proved to be
one of the finest defensive clubs of all time. Once Coach G realized
this, Duke became incredibly difficult to score on. The problem was that
this group didn't have all of the ingredients necessary to be a great
offensive club.

I alluded to the loss of Monique Currie earlier on. The loss of Currie
didn't just mean a loss of 15+ points per game, it meant losing someone
who deferred to no one, not even Beard. Opponents ignored her at their
own peril. While Tillis could be thrown off her game with extra defensive
attention and physical play, Currie was relentless under all game
conditions. Her shooting and decision making were sometimes a bit
lacking, but that was to be expected for a freshman. If she indeed had
improved her outside shooting in the offseason, that would have been an
even bigger bonus. Along those lines, losing a sharpshooter like Howe was
also a huge blow. This was a player whose size and ability to create her
own shot meant that she would be an ideal zone buster. Throw in solid
ballhandling and passing along with the ability to take it to the hoop,
and you lose a player who was ready to contribute right away. I must also
mention Wynter Whitley here, who was understandably devastated by her
brother's death. Wynter has experienced a lot of loss in her life, and at
times was just unable to focus on basketball--again, quite understandable.
When you look at her freshman year, you can see how important she became
in such a short span of time. Her defense was always superb, and her
versatility on offense was a big advantage. She could post up, get
fouled, put the ball on the floor and drive, or spot up and hit threes.
In the games where she was effective in 2003, she proved to be a
tremendous difference-maker. Without Wynter, Duke does not beat UNC in
Chapel Hill. Her struggles in so many other games practically reduced
Duke to a nine-woman squad at times.

When you considered that Brooke Smith wasn't ready to be a big-time
contributor, that left Duke with an effective 8 or 9 woman roster at best.
That included the superstar in Beard and the star in Tillis--both of whom
carried the scoring load for most of the year. Other starters included
role players in Vicki Krapohl and Michele Matyasovsky. Vicki was there to
hit open threes, play defense and take care of the ball, a role she
carried out well, but was limited in what she could do otherwise. Michele
was there to set screens, keep the offense flowing, and play defense.
Again, she did this quite well, but was offensively limited, especially
against elite teams. The only other veteran was Mosch, whose play could
be maddening, to say the least. At times a dominant offensive player, she
also disappeared far too often, deferring way too much to her teammates.
That left the freshmen: Bass, Harding and Foley. All three definitely had
their moments, but all had flaws. Bass could really bang inside like no
other Duke player, but tended to clog up the offense at times and was
sometimes a step slow on defense. Harding could really run and was a
fabulous defender, but her lack of range and confidence in her shot slowed
down her development. Foley proved to be a remarkably versatile guard who
could shoot and pass, but injuries and adjusting to the physical play at
this level took time.

Losing Currie and a top shooter meant that Coach G lost a lot of
versatility. Tillis was still a walking matchup problem, but was also
clearly more comfortable in the backcourt than in the post. But the other
players had very specific strengths and weaknesses--meaning that certain
combinations would be susceptible to clever coaches with top-notch
personnel. When she was starting Bass, that gave Duke a significant size
and power advantage over many of their opponents. The problem was that
Duke was a team whose advantage was in speed, not power. Bass was a
player who needed the ball in the low block on a constant basis to be
truly effective--she wasn't a good shooter or passer, and so tended to
clog up the offense when things weren't flowing well. On defense, she
simply wasn't fast enough to get down the court quickly against elite
teams. UConn saw this flaw and exploited it ruthlessly. Coach G wisely
chose speed over power, inserting Harding into the lineup. Her presence
bolstered Duke's already ferocious perimeter pressure defense, forcing
turnovers that led to easy fast breaks. The transition game was Duke's
bread-and-butter, and forcing turnovers fueled it. The problem with this
lineup is that it left Duke with Tillis and Matyasovsky in the post--two
players ideally suited to play wing. This meant that a smart team could
exploit Duke inside if they could get Tillis in foul trouble or throw her
off her game. This is what Tennessee did the second time, after learning
the hard way that they weren't going to out-quick Duke. Without Currie
inside to help on the boards, or Howe outside to bust zones, Duke was
just a little less versatile, and while that small flaw could not be
exploited by most of Duke's opponents, the best of the best did.

It is important to emphasize once again that Duke had nothing less than
an amazing season, and that the freshman class in particular played very
well. Tillis was criticized by many for some of her NCAA performances,
but the truth is that she had a remarkable season, greatly improving her
rebounding numbers, getting to the foul line more often, and bailing out
Alana more than once when she wasn't playing well. And of course, Beard
was nothing less than spectacular, from beginning to end. Duke fans must
understand that they continue to reside in a golden age, with some truly
rare talent. Beard somehow improved her level of play over her superb
sophomore year. The future remains remarkably bright for this team and
the program in general. There is a tendency to perhaps dwell on what went
wrong last year since so many things went right and that's understandable,
but every player and fan alike should take a final look at what this team
accomplished and simply marvel.